There once was a boy who ran track at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, who was a decent athlete in his freshman year but nothing special – definitely not state championship meet material. Then that boy decided to compete as a girl, and in his second season competing as a girl qualified to compete in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state championship track meet taking place over Memorial Day weekend.
When that biological male, Athena Ryan, took 2nd place in the North Coast Section semifinals this past weekend, Adeline Johnson, a biological female in her last year of high school competition, lost her chance at a state championship. Yet what made national news wasn’t the fundamental unfairness of a man competing in women’s sports, or the blatant bullying and misogyny it evidences. What made national news was video from the medal ceremony in which Johnson frowned and gave a big thumbs down – a gesture the media assumed was aimed at Ryan.
🏃Trans-identifying male, Athena Ryan (Jr) took 2nd today in the “Girls 1600m” at a CA State Championship qualifier meet in Dublin, CA.
Ryan beamed while 4th place senior, Adeline Johnson gave a thumb down after losing the chance to advance to the State Championships by 1 spot. pic.twitter.com/iY2InxvhJt
— ICONS (@icons_women) May 21, 2023
Johnson would have been entirely justified in aiming that thumbs-down (and much more) at Ryan, but representatives of her school say that the thumbs-down was regarding her own performance and was aimed to her mother.
Still, Ryan shouldn’t have been on the podium, and if he were competing against other males he probably wouldn’t have even made it to the sectional meet. In 2021, running as a boy, his best time in the 1600 meters was 5:01.43. Due to COVID there wasn’t a sectional meet that year, but in 2022’s North Coast Sectionals the slowest time for a boy in the 1600 prelims was 4:44.53. This year, if Ryan had run as a boy, even with his season best time of 4:55 he would have come in dead last:
Here are the results from the 2022 state track and field championship meet, which show that Athena Ryan would be laughed off the track if he attempted to run the 1600 meters event at this meet as a boy.
It was noted that in Saturday’s race Ryan was in 5th place until the last 100 meters and then blasted past several girls to finish in second place. A parent of one of Ryan’s competitors, who didn’t want to be named due to fear of reprisal, explained to the Daily Mail how biology gave Ryan the edge in that scenario:
‘We knew there was a potential for this all year, for them to race against a boy. He came out of fifth in the last 100 meters and ended up second – which is physically impossible for a girl to do. ‘
‘You either think that he is holding back, or it’s his lactic threshold. Which means he can access energy in the final part of the race.
‘Girls can’t do that, there is a physical way in which they race. Having a boy in there just throws off the mechanics of the race.
‘It doesn’t just affect the top three or four, it affects everyone in the entire race. Last year he ran as a boy in the cross-country season, then three months later for track he runs as a girl.
Families and athletes are afraid to speak out because by speaking out they can be accused of breaking the code of conduct, which parents and students must sign, and can result in the athlete being disqualified from competition. That same parent told the Daily Mail:
‘We have all been advised that we are not protected. As a family, anything we say falls under the student code of conduct.
‘If we don’t follow the guidelines, then it is considered bullying. They can’t protect our girls from being disqualified so I understand why no one wants to speak out.
‘Everybody is too terrified to challenge it. There is the fear of what will happen, what will be taken away and if you won’t be allowed to race or if you’ll be canceled.’
That these students and parents are expected to sit quietly while a boy who apparently simply wants to win even if it means winning at the expense of girls who’ve trained and sacrificed for years to get to this elite level is beyond disturbing. It’s telling boys that if they don’t feel good enough it’s okay to join a girl’s competition and win that. We don’t allow professional athletes to suddenly decide they’re amateur and compete at that level because we recognize that’s not fair. There are weight classes in wrestling and boxing because everyone realizes it’s both unfair and unsafe for someone at the heavyweight level to compete against someone much lighter. This should not be different. If a boy wants to identify as a girl in high school and dress as a girl, more power to him, but he cannot be allowed to compete in girls’ sports. And we, as a society, must loudly fight to protect not just women’s sports, but women in general – since it seems that not only are women now being marginalized, they’re being targeted for erasure.
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